Chimp-Stimulus Cartoon Raises Racism Concerns
By Sewell Chan AND Jeremy W. Peters
Updated, 5:01 p.m. | Gov. David A. Paterson, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others expressed concern on Wednesday morning over an editorial cartoon in The New York Post that showed a police officer telling his colleague who just shot a chimpanzee, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
Critics said the cartoon, drawn by Sean Delonas, implicitly compared President Obama with the primate and evoked a history of racist imagery of blacks. The chimpanzee was an apparent reference to the 200-pound pet chimpanzee that was shot dead by a police officer in Stamford, Conn., on Monday evening, after it mauled a friend of his owner.
Speaking at a conference of the New York Academy of Medicine on Wednesday morning, Mr. Paterson said that while he had not seen the cartoon, he believed that The Post should explain it. Given the possibility that some people could conclude the cartoon had a racial subtext, Mr. Paterson said the newspaper needed to clarify its meaning.
“It would be very important for The New York Post to explain what the cartoon was intended to portray,” Mr. Paterson said in response to a question about whether the cartoon’s depiction of a monkey was racist, as Mr. Sharpton has suggested. “Obviously those types of associations have been made. They do feed a kind of negative and stereotypical way that people think. But I think if it’s enough that people are raising this issue, I hope they would clarify.”
Senator Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said in a statement: “I found the Post cartoon offensive and purposefully hurtful. This type of cartoon serves no productive role in the public discourse.”
City Councilman Leroy G. Comrie Jr., a Queens Democrat, called for a boycott of the newspaper. “To run such a violent, racist cartoon is an insult to all New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. “This was an unfortunate incident in which a human being was seriously injured- not an opportunity to sling dangerous rhetoric. It is my belief that The New York Post owes an immediate apology to this city for demonstrating such terrible judgment and insensitivity.”
Mr. Comrie urged New Yorkers to “demonstrate their displeasure with the New York Post by writing letters to their advertisers and simply stop purchasing a publication that clearly has no respect or sensitivity for people of color.”
A newsroom employee at The Post, who spoke on condition of anonymity because employees were not permitted to comment on the matter, said its newsroom received many calls of complaints on Wednesday morning after the publication of the cartoon. “Every line was lit up for several hours,” the employee said. “The phones on the city desk have never rung like that before.” Many Post staff members were dismayed by the cartoon, the employee added.
The cartoon was on Page 12 of Wednesday’s edition, next to the paper’s Page Six gossip column. On Page 11, the reverse side, was a photograph of President Obama signing the stimulus bill into law in Denver.
Mr. Sharpton, who has been an unflattering subject in cartoons drawn by Mr. Delonas in The Post, said in a statement on his Web site:
The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling at best, given the racist attacks throughout history that have made African-Americans synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual inference to this form of racism when, in the cartoon, the police say after shooting a chimpanzee, “now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”
Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder whether the Post cartoonist was inferring that a monkey wrote it?
In a statement, Col Allan, editor in chief of The Post, denied Mr. Sharpton’s assertion that the cartoon was “racially charged.” Mr. Allan said:
The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.
A 2001 cartoon by Mr. Delonas depicted Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president who was seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor that year, kissing the buttocks of Mr. Sharpton — a depiction that was widely criticized as demeaning, and even racist.
In a phone interview, Mr. Sharpton said he planned to hold a protest outside The Post’s Midtown offices at noon on Thursday.
“What does shooting a chimpanzee have to do with a stimulus bill?” Mr. Sharpton said. “This raises all the racial stereotypes we are trying to get away from this in this country.”
He added: “I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or the chimpanzee. I‘m speaking on behalf of the offended African-American community.”
Mr. Delonas has drawn ire from a number of groups for past cartoons in The Post. In 2006, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation denounced a cartoon of his that showed a man carrying a sheep wearing a bridal veil to a “New Jersey Marriage Licenses” window, a reference to the State Supreme Court’s ruling that year requiring the state to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples through civil unions.
Andrew Rojecki, associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of “The Black Image in the White Mind” (University of Chicago Press, 2000), a study of racial attitudes and their relationship to mass media content, said he found the cartoon deeply troubling.
“Of course I would say it’s racist,” Professor Rojecki said in an interview. “There’s no question about it.”
He added, “The cartoonist, whether he did this consciously or not, was drawing upon a very historically deep source of images about African-Americans that African-Americans do not have a lot of control over.”
Such images are harmful on a number of levels, he said. “Even people who do not harbor deep-seated prejudices, because they have stereotypes deeply embedded in their consciousness, may react unconsciously when those associations are triggered,” he said.
Professor Rojecki rejected Mr. Allan’s assertion that the cartoon was devoid of racial content. “It strains credulity to imagine that there is any association between a chimpanzee that was shot because it had attacked someone and a bill that has successfully passed through Congress,” he said. “It makes no sense. What possible explanation could there be?”
Jan Nederveen Pieterse, a professor of global studies and sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of “White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture” (Yale University Press, 1995), said, “I agree the cartoon is racist, without a doubt.”
Professor Pieterse, who is Dutch, said that portrayal of non-Westerners as primates became well-established in both the United States and Europe in the late 19th century, and has affected not only blacks, but also the Irish and Chinese, for example.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” he said of the cartoon, “and I think people are concerned because it sets a nasty, mean, very aggressive tone. You can’t get any lower.”View source article